‘The Witcher’ Is Netflix’s Answer To ‘Game Of Thrones’ – But It Must Avoid The Same Mistakes

Maxwell JonesMaxwell Jones in Entertainment, Netflix, TV
Published 25.07.19
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Game of Thrones was revolutionary. There are a lot of people out there (I’d hazard a guess at millions) who would all claim that the show changed their lives in some way. And that’s not an exaggeration, because it changed mine. It opened my eyes to the fact that human beings are quite messy – we can be smart when we want to be, courageous when we need to be and that, quite often, we humans are actually worse than the mythical creatures our favourite characters have to fight against.

Thrones was Wagnerian in many ways – a celebration of heroism and courage, fighting against all odds because the end result will be worth it. But after going through all that, do we really want – or indeed need – another show to replace it?

According to the free market, yes, we do. Signs suggest there’s still a hunger for medieval fantasy, with the genre making a resurgence like nothing we’ve seen since the days of Tolkien and CS Lewis. Fans will pay anything for dragons, gratuitous sex and violence in a bygone setting; it might be because they love the genre, but it might also serve as a rebound because their preferred suitor has long set sail into the West.

It’s only natural, therefore, that producers thought the world of Andrzej Sapkowski would be a good fit for television. Shows like The Crown and House of Cards have proved that Netflix can handle a miniseries well, while Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings project proves the interest in fantasy epics is still there, especially in light of the gaping hole left by Game Of Thrones this year.

For all its successes, though, Thrones had one major failing: it had to adapt from the books it was based on. This is the bane of every film or TV show ever made, because there will always be book fans who are so fanatical that they’ll never be happy with the end result. Even Peter Jackson was criticised for minor errors like giving Legolas long hair, or omitting Tom Bombadil from the final cut of the films.

And so, when Henry Cavill had been cast as Geralt in The Witcher, I could hear the gasps of execration from book and game fans alike.

‘Cavill is too pretty to be the weathered and wolfish Geralt,’ I heard them say.

‘He’ll never cope with the rugged and tortured character we all know and love,’ others proclaimed.

 

I should know; I was one of them. But after seeing the first trailer and hearing his voice, seeing him in costume … I’m convinced. He looks awesome. The setting looks awesome. The potential to not only match but exceed Game Of Thrones is there, but only if they succeed in doing one thing: staying away from adapting the books. Or games.

The stories in The Witcher need to be 100% original, but with enough references to keep die-hards happy. Original stories mean there’s no room for disappointment. Why? Because original stories can’t desecrate sacred ground. They can’t spoil the stories with re-interpretations or omissions. Season 8 of Game of Thrones, was, in a sense, original – as none of us knew what to expect – but showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss could only work within the parameters set out by George R.R. Martin in the books that proceeded it.

We saw this years ago with Bryan Fuller’s marvellous Hannibal series. It spanned for three seasons, but only the first two were any good. Why? Because the first two were all original stories that simply referenced the books and films without adapting them completely.

It all fell flat in season three when they tried to adapt the book-stories properly, ruining the magic of Mads Mikkelsen’s performance with corny dialogue and hammy re-interpretations of iconic scenes from the novel. The same happened with Thrones – some of the best lines and scenes in all eight seasons came from the minds of the showrunners and the actors, rather than from our Most Benevolent Overlord GRRM. Just because film and book share the same name, doesn’t mean they have to be mutually exclusive. Sticking to the source material can be helpful, but when it’s done so rigidly it can often hinder the re-interpretation.

Netflix’s new Witcher series needs to learn from the mistakes of GoT while paying homage to its source, but ultimately carving out a new, original direction that won’t leave fans disappointed and wanting more. If it does this, who knows, it may be even more successful than the HBO series.

Thrones was eight seasons long and the producers had no idea if it would take off in the beginning. The Witcher’s blessing (or curse, depending on how you look at it) is that the producers don’t need to think about that problem. All they have to do is be careful with the writing. The finale of Thrones, for all its faults, should act as a good example to anyone thinking of turning a beloved book series into a visual franchise. If Netflix takes notes in class, I think we can expect the birth of a brand new dynasty.

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